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Copyright Thanissaro Bhikkhu 1998
This book may be copied or reprinted for free distributionwithout permission from the publisher.Otherwise all rights reserved.
Revised edition, 2011.
I : Pairs
II : Heedfulness
III : The Mind
IV : Blossoms
V : Fools
VI : The Wise
VII : Arahants
VIII : Thousands
IX : Evil
X : The Rod
XI : Aging
XII : Self
XIII : Worlds
XIV : Awakened
XV : Happy
XVI : Dear Ones
XVII : Anger
XVIII : Impurities
XIX : The Judge
XX : The Path
XXI : Miscellany
XXII : Hell
XXIII : Elephants
XXIV : Craving
XXV : Monks
XXVI : Brahmans
Another translation of the Dhammapada.
Many other English translations are already availablethe fingers of at least five people would be needed to count themso I suppose that a new translation has to be justified, to prove that its not just another one. In doing so, though, Id rather not criticize the efforts of earlier translators, for I owe them a great deal. Instead, Ill ask you to read the Introduction and Historical Notes, to gain an idea of what is distinctive about the approach I have taken, and the translation itself, which I hope will stand on its own merits. The original impulse for making the translation came from my conviction that the text deserved to be offered freely as a gift of Dhamma. As I knew of no existing translations available as gifts, I made my own.
The explanatory material is designed to meet with the needs of two sorts of readers: those who want to read the text as a text, in the context of the religious history of Buddhismviewed from the outsideand those who want to read the text as a guide to the personal conduct of their lives. Although there is no clear line dividing these groups, the Introduction is aimed more at the second group, and the Historical Notes more at the first. The End Notes and Glossary contain material that should be of interest to both. Verses marked with an asterisk in the translation are discussed in the End Notes. Pali termsas well as English terms used in a special sense, such as effluent, enlightened one, fabrication, stress, and Unbindingwhen they appear in more than one verse, are explained in the Glossary.
In addition to the previous translators and editors from whose work I have borrowed, I owe a special debt of gratitude to Jeanne Larsen for her help in honing down the language of the translation. Also, John Bullitt, Gil Fronsdal, Charles Hallisey, Karen King, Andrew Olendzki, Ruth Stiles, Clark Strand, Paula Trahan, and Jane Yudelman offered many helpful comments that improved the quality of the book as a whole. Any mistakes that remain, of course, are my own responsibility.
Metta Forest MonasteryValley Center, CA 92082-1409 December, 1997
The Dhammapada, an anthology of verses attributed to the Buddha, has long been recognized as one of the masterpieces of early Buddhist literature. Only more recently have scholars realized that it is also one of the early masterpieces in the Indian tradition of kavya, or belles lettres.
This translation of the Dhammapada is an attempt to render the verses into English in a way that does justice to both of the traditions to which the text belongs. Although it is tempting to view these traditions as distinct, dealing with form (kavya) and content (Buddhism), the ideals of kavya aimed at combining form and content into a seamless whole. At the same time, the early Buddhists adopted and adapted the conventions of kavya in a way that skillfully dovetailed with their views of how teaching and listening played a role in their path of practice. My hope is that the translation presented here will convey the same seamlessness and skill.
As an example of kavya, the Dhammapada has a fairly complete body of ethical and aesthetic theory behind it, for the purpose of kavya was to instruct in the highest ends of life while simultaneously giving delight. The ethical teaching of the Dhammapada is expressed in the first pair of verses: the mind, through its actions (kamma), is the chief architect of ones happiness and suffering both in this life and beyond. The first three chapters elaborate on this point, to show that there are two major ways of relating to this fact: as a wise person, who is heedful enough to make the necessary effort to train his/her own mind to be a skillful architect; and as a fool, who is heedless and sees no reason to train the mind.
The work as a whole elaborates on this distinction, showing in more detail both the path of the wise person and that of the fool, together with the rewards of the former and the dangers of the latter: the path of the wise person can lead not only to happiness within the cycle of death and rebirth, but also to total escape into the Deathless, beyond the cycle entirely; the path of the fool leads not only to suffering now and in the future, but also to further entrapment within the cycle. The purpose of the Dhammapada is to make the wise path attractive to the reader so that he/she will follow itfor the dilemma posited by the first pair of verses is not one in the imaginary world of fiction; it is the dilemma in which the reader is already placed by the fact of being born.
To make the wise path attractive, the techniques of poetry are used to give savor (rasa) to the message. Ancient Indian aesthetic treatises devoted a great deal of discussion to the notion of savor and how it could be conveyed. The basic theory was this: Artistic composition expressed states of emotion or states of mind called bhava. The standard list of basic emotions included love (delight), humor, grief, anger, energy, fear, disgust, and astonishment. The reader or listener exposed to these presentations of emotion did not participate in them directly; rather, he/she savored them as an aesthetic experience at one
remove from the emotion. Thus, the savor of grief is not grief, but compassion. The savor of energy is not energy itself, but admiration for heroism. The savor of love is not love but an experience of sensitivity. The savor of astonishment is a sense of the marvelous. The proof of the indirectness of the aesthetic experience was that some of the basic emotions were decidedly unpleasant, while the savor of the emotion was to be enjoyed.
Although a work of art might depict many emotions, and thuslike a good mealoffer many savors for the reader/listener to taste, one savor was supposed to dominate. Writers made a common practice of announcing the savor they were trying to produce, usually stating in passing that their particular savor was the highest of all. The Dhammapada  states explicitly that the savor of Dhamma is the highest savor, which indicates that that is the basic savor of the work. Classic aesthetic theory lists the savor of Dhamma, or justice, as one of the three basic varieties of the heroic savor (the other two deal with generosity and war): thus we would expect the majority of the verses to depict energy, and in fact they do, with their exhortations to action, strong verbs, repeated imperatives, and frequent use of the imagery from battles, races, and conquests.
Dhamma, in the Buddhist sense, implies more than the justice of Dhamma in aesthetic theory. However, the long section of the Dhammapada devoted to The Judgebeginning with a definition of a good judge, and continuing with examples of good judgmentshows that the Buddhist concept of Dhamma has room for the aesthetic meaning of the term as well.
Classic theory also holds that the heroic savor should, especially at the end of a piece, shade into the marvelous. This, in fact, is what happens periodically throughout the Dhammapada, and especially at the end, where the verses express astonishment at the amazing and paradoxical qualities of a person who has followed the path of heedfulness to its end, becoming pathless [92-93; 179-180]totally indescribable, transcending conflicts and dualities of every sort. Thus the predominant emotions that the verses express in Paliand should also express in translationare energy and astonishment, so as to produce qualities of the heroic and marvelous for the reader to savor. This savor is then what inspires the reader to follow the path of wisdom, with the result that he/she will reach a direct experience of the true happiness, transcending all dualities, found at the end of the path.
Classic aesthetic theory lists a variety of rhetorical features that can produce savor. Examples from these lists that can be found in the Dhammapada include: accumulation (padoccaya) [137-140], admonitions (upadista) [47-48, 246-248, et. al.], ambiguity (aksarasamghata) [97, 294-295], benedictions (asis) , distinctions (visesana) [19-20, 21-22, 318-319], encouragement (protsahana) [35, 43, 46, et. al.], etymology (nirukta) , examples (drstanta) , explanations of cause and effect (hetu) [1-2], illustrations (udaharana) , implications (arthapatti) , rhetorical questions (prccha) [44, 62, 143, et. al.], praise (gunakirtana) [54-56, 58-59, 92-93, et. al.], prohibitions (pratisedha) [121-122, 271-272, 371, et. al.], and ornamentation (bhusana) [passim].
Of these, ornamentation is the most complex, including four figures of speech and ten
qualities. The figures of speech are simile [passim], extended metaphor , rhyme (including alliteration and assonance), and lamps [pa